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Five things we learned as the Chiefs repeated as AFC champions

What did we learn as Kansas City defeated Buffalo?

The Kansas City Chiefs advanced to Super Bowl LV by defeating the Buffalo Bills 38-24 in the AFC championship at Arrowhead Stadium.

Here are five things we learned from the game.

1. The Chiefs defense can ball out for a whole game

AFC Championship - Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Over the second half of the season, national analysts have been talking down the Chiefs, noting (correctly) that the team was winning their games by small margins. But all this really showed was what the score was at the end of the game. Anyone who watched the Chiefs carefully knew the real story: the team was generally dominating its opponents in the early going of each game, and then giving up yards (and sometimes points) at the end.

This isn’t a new strategy. The so-called “prevent defense” is specifically designed to trade yardage for time while your team has the lead. But it makes fans crazy because it can sometimes backfire, allowing teams to “hang around” until late in the game — and then take the lead and win with a late drive.

But in the hands of a masterful coach — such as Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo — the prevent defense works exactly as advertised. The key is being able to know when it’s time to turn it on and when to turn it off — and then having the ability to do so.

Since Spagnuolo’s defense is so scheme-dependent — it has to be, because few would call Kansas City’s defensive roster the league’s most talented — he’s able to do exactly that. How many times this season have we seen the Chiefs defense look bad in the third and early fourth quarter while the team has a lead — and them clamp down tightly as the game comes to a close?

That leads to what looks like a lot of narrow regular-season victories. But in Kansas City’s case, it’s simply represented a skillful use of its available resources.

The postseason, however, is another world. Everything is on the line; you simply can’t allow an opponent any leeway — at least not on purpose. And on Sunday, we saw the Kansas City defense perform at closer to its true ability throughout the game, holding one of the league’s most potent offenses to far below its normal production.

Anyone who can drive a car understands the concept: you only need to have your foot on the gas when you’re going uphill.

2. The Bills are an opponent worthy of our respect

AFC Championship - Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The way the NFL schedule is constructed every year, Kansas City is likely to be facing Buffalo regularly during the season during the coming years — and in the playoffs, too. Even after this loss, it’s best that we don’t dismiss them.

In Josh Allen, the Bills have a smart, talented quarterback — one who has consistently improved through his three NFL seasons. We know how valuable that is, yes? The Chiefs may have made wide receiver Stefon Diggs fairly invisible on Sunday, but as Buffalo continues to add offensive weapons, that will become harder and harder for opponents to do.

It occurs to me that Bills are kind of like the 2013 Chiefs: a team that was significantly stronger on one side of the ball than the other — and was able to use that strength to rack up a string of victories against average to above-average opponents to make the playoffs. But lacking balance and postseason experience, they folded when the regular season ended.

As we have seen, however, the 2013 Chiefs still represented a step forward. With an already-strong offense and a very good defensive-minded head coach at the helm, I think the Bills could do the same thing: build a very competitive team. And I’d love for their loyal, long-suffering fans to see them climb that ladder.

3. In the playoffs, Darrel Williams should be The Man

Divisional Round - Cleveland Browns v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In his film review last week, our Matt Lane argued that the running style of third-year running back Darrel Williams is better-suited to patchwork offensive line Kansas City has been forced to field this season. And with Eric Fisher’s injury, that situation will be even worse in Tampa; depending on how you want to count it, the team will be starting at least three players in the championship game who weren’t penciled in as starters before the league year began back in March.

Matt’s argument was that running backs like Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Le’Veon Bell — whose styles are more patient than Williams’ downhill approach — are better suited to playing behind lines with better run-blocking skills than Kansas City’s has displayed in 2020; Edwards-Helaire and Bell wait for holes to develop, while Williams looks for a crease and takes off.

After reflecting on it since then — and watching Sunday’s game — I’m convinced that Matt has figured this exactly right.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad the Chiefs took Edwards-Helaire in the draft. I think he’s going to be terrific behind the line that Kansas City will now be forced to start building in 2021. But right now, Williams is better-suited for success behind the current line. Let’s get the young rookie some more playoff experience — which is always always a good thing — but in Tampa, let’s depend on Williams to get the job done.

4. Tom Brady will be operating at a disadvantage in Tampa

NFC Championship - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The opening Las Vegas betting lines give the Chiefs a 3.5-point edge over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl. It will be only the third time in his 10 championship game appearances that Tom Brady’s team will be the underdog. (The other times were his first Super Bowl — in which the St. Louis Rams were favored by two touchdowns — and then after the 2014 season, when the Seattle Seahawks were favored by a point).

The New England Patriots won both of those games. For that reason alone, many are likely to think Brady will again prevail. Others will note that Brady’s new team is in the playoffs for the first time since 2007, while the Patriots missed for the first time since 2008. This, they will say, shows that it was Brady — not New England coach Bill Belichick — who was the driving force behind the Patriots’ two-decade dynasty.

But I will take 25-year-old Patrick Mahomes over 43-year-old Tom Brady. I will also take Travis Kelce over Rob Gronkowski. I’ll gladly accept Tyreek Hill over Mike Evans. I have no problem with Harrison Butker over Ryan Succop. And I’ll take Tyrann Mathieu over just about anybody. Yes... Tampa Bay’s edge rushers would worry any team — but if we really needed to worry about that, the San Francisco 49ers would be the defending world champions.

So... see you in Tampa, Tom. When the game begins, Patrick will likely be thinking of it as the overtime period of the 2018 AFC Championship game. Good luck with that, Buccaneers.

5. There’s no more crying in Chiefs football

AFC Championship - Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Before the AFC championship game a year ago — and two years ago, too — I was a nervous wreck. Could the Chiefs actually pull it off?

But a year ago, when Sammy Watkins caught that 60-yard touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter — extending Kansas City’s lead over the Tennessee Titans to 35-17 — something started to change.

My eyes filled with tears. In the basement man cave of my sister’s home in Leawood, Kansas, I reached over my laptop and put my hand on Bob’s shoulder.

Bob is my brother-in-law. The two of us had simultaneously rekindled our passion for Chiefs football on a December afternoon in 1990, watching from end zone seats as Warren Moon dismantled the Chiefs 27-10. The Chiefs had lost that afternoon, but we were both swept up by the Arrowhead experience.

Marty Schottenheimer was the head coach. Bill Cowher was the defensive coordinator. Bruce Arians was the running backs coach. Tony Dungy ran the defensive backs. Some guy named Herm Edwards was a scout. Neither of had us had ever heard of a young University of Missouri offensive line coach named Andy Reid.

An awful lot had happened since then. Bob and I had seen all of it together.

I started sobbing. “We’re going to the Super Bowl, man,” I told him.

Two weeks later — as Chiefs players poured onto the field in Miami after time expired — I raised a glass of champagne with my family and tried to make a toast before I went back to my work. I said something I can no longer remember. I’m sure that whatever it was, it was idiotic. I was too overcome with emotion.

But on Sunday, I was strangely calm as kickoff approached. I knew the Chiefs could lose. I knew that even if they won, they could still lose to the Buccaneers in two weeks. In fact, they still can.

I was, of course, delighted with the big victory — but this time, there were no tears.

You see... a lot has happened in the last year, too.

Things are different now. I now know that all of this might last only for a few years — or for a decade or more. Who knows? But I am certain it will last for a while. Along the way, there will be many victories — and more than a few losses. But now I see that as a Chiefs fan, my satisfaction won’t be found just in those wins and losses. Instead, it will be in the journey we all take together.

What a journey it has been. And what a journey it will continue to be.